The Motif of Strangeness in David Malouf's Works: An Imagined Life

Jörg Heinke, University of Kiel, Germany

In An Imagined Life we see Ovid as a stranger who has been banned from the Roman Empire into exile in Tomis at the Black Sea. There he is confronted with a tribe who do not know the Roman tongue. So for him, it is not only an exile with respect to place but also an exile from articulation and understanding. Living with them he learns the Getean tongue and the rituals but still remains a stranger to them. During the hunting season he discovers a child in a forest. That child obviously does not belong to Tomis or to any other human community. It is -- from Ovid's point of view -- not only in exile from the human language but also from humanity altogether. Being fascinated by the idea of helping a child discover its humanity he asks the chief of Tomis to capture the child for him. But the strange child evokes mistrust and as it does neither speak nor behave like a 'normal' child they think it is bewitched by demons and evil spirits. Ovid's careful attempts to show the child to make human sounds and use tools of civilisation are torn apart during the winter when first the wild child, then one of the children of the house and in the end the chief himself becomes severely ill and his protector finally dies from it. The prejudices of the Getae are deeply rooted in their old tales and are used when they are confronted with the child. They simply do not know nor do they have any other possible (in their world view possible) explanation for the infection of two tribe members than the one that the child's evil spirits seek another soul. Ovid and the child flee into the open space of the country and there the poet finally learns the child's language and where to find himself in nature.

This document has been adapted by kind permission of the author from the English summary of "The Phenomenon of the Stranger in David Malouf's An Imaginary Life, Remembering Babylon and The Conversations at Curlow Creek," his University of Kiel Master's thesis. You can contact Jörg Heinke at or visit his personal home page.

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